Wednesday, June 20, 2018

graduation blues

“Yesterday, a child came out to wonder/caught a dragonfly inside a jar/fearful when the sky was full of thunder/and tearful at the falling of a star.”

I decided to torture myself and listen to Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” That song--which has always, always made me cry--is pure utter fuel for the mess I am today.

Yesterday, my little boy had his senior prom. He attended with his lovely girlfriend of a year. Tomorrow he graduates high school.


Seriously, yesterday?

Yesterday, I was a 35-year-old divorcee not that interested in children. Yesterday I met a man named Dalton Ross, nine years my junior, and like magic, we fell in love. He was full of enthusiasm, and he wanted children, and soon, we married. Quickly and easily I was pregnant, and after much morning sickness, a goodly amount of Mr. Softee, and a long labor, some of it spent walking around Washington Square Park, some of it spent watching Rushmore, my baby boy was born on July 13, 2000 at St. Luke’s Roosevelt in Manhattan.

He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces. We named him Dale Kelly Ross. He took to the breast like a champ with his jaws of steel. He would not sleep in the crib, so I slept with him snuggled by my side. The exhaustion was epic. But that was the job, and I was committed to it.  

When Dale was 18 months old, he began running up and down the hallways and we grew out of our one-bedroom apartment on Washington Square Park. My days as a hip youngish editor about town were over. We moved out to Montclair, New Jersey so the little boy had room to grow. I never looked back.

At pre-school, he did not like to draw. He would peel the paper off the crayons. He would hand us sidewalk chalk. “Can you draw?” he’d ask. Blond curls and big brown eyes. He loved the block corner. He favored large structures. “I built the Serious Tower,” he would say. The biggest building in the world, at one time. The pre-school preferred to use recycled materials, in the tradition of Reggio-Emilia, Italy. At one point, the teacher decided the children would build sculptures from styrofoam, and she put together a museum of their creations. I took off from work that day. I knelt on the floor so we would be eye to eye, and hugged him. “It was so special to be here today, and see the sculpture museum,” I told him. “You are my little boy. You are my pride and my joy.” He nodded solemnly.

Yesterday. That was yesterday.

He sobbed into the skirt of the white suit I wore to my first day on the job at ELLEgirl. “Don’t get me dirty,” I said. “I have to go.” A month later he started kindergarten. He sat at a desk with a big lunch box looming before him, terrified. But elementary school, it was good. I lost my job and became a stay-at-home mom. I learned to drive. I tried out that whole class mom thing.  Dale made friends and he learned to play French horn and he discovered Harry Potter and chess. He won the prize for most books read; he played soccer; he learned to swim. We joined a pool club and he was on the swim team and the tennis team and I was his biggest fan.

And then, it was middle school. The boy who had spent a decade loving us unconditionally began to find us embarrassing. That’s how it goes. That’s life, right? Yesterday,  they are sobbing into your white skirt; today, they don’t want you near them.

During this period I read a post about parenting kids this age. The author used the metaphor of the wall in the swimming pool. The child swims away from the wall; that’s the natural order of things. But then, inevitably, they need the wall. Your job is to be that wall.

So, yesterday, when he was in middle school, I tried to be the wall, when I remembered what kind of parent I wanted to be. Sometimes, though, I fell down on the job. He would try my patience, as teenagers do, and I didn’t always handle it perfectly. I could have been better, yesterday. I could have been the wall. The wall is the vessel for the water that makes the pool. The wall does not complain when the swimmer moves away. The wall is silent, strong.

Yesterday, he started high school. I drove to the school to pick up his schedule before freshman year, got out of the car, and realized that my legs were shaking. Why? I was not starting high school. I was nervous for him? But it was fine. He dropped soccer and discovered a talent for running. One glorious freshman season of basketball, and then he stopped playing tennis too, and ran year round.

As the months and year moved on, he pushed us away even more. He told us almost nothing. They must separate. You raise your children to leave you. It’s the natural order of life. My husband and I left our parents. But they didn’t tell us how much it hurt.

Yesterday, it was the senior prom. That was really yesterday, not a metaphorical yesterday, but actually, yesterday, June 19, 2018. And tomorrow, that’s graduation.

Wish me luck.


  1. My 18 year old boy had his grad ceremony yesterday. Moved into the basement today and registered for college the day before. I wasn't going to cry Christina but thanks to you... (we can do this)